Hell and Back

The title of this post is taken from a song by Tonight Alive. It goes some way to articulate how I feel about things.

There is no easy way to quite say this, but for a good several weeks I went as low as I’ve ever been. It hurt to live. There didn’t seem any point in continuing or carrying on to the next day. There were several times where I contemplated a plan on how to bring about my own end – I have relative confidence that I could exact something that was efficient. There was something in taking the notion seriously that was somewhat comforting. Almost like, now that there was a possibility of making it all stop it helped soothe the agitation within me. There was a solution, if trying to find a reason to live didn’t work out.
On the surface whilst this is all happening, I was still getting up every morning, seeing friends, climbing, doing things. You would never know. It’s hard to explain to a level that I’m satisfied with how it felt. It wasn’t feeling low (although that went in hand with it), it felt like there was a thick fog that seeped into every pore which was so void of anything that it drained any positivity or hope that I had unknowingly hidden away. I was convinced that if I could answer the question of what drives me, what my point is in life I could stave off this feeling. But I couldn’t answer it.

I still have no direction, it still hurts to live and I still go out and see friends and climb and do things. I don’t think anything has changed per se. But as I was on a flight last week on my way back from Slovenia (a frantic attempt to give myself some headspace), we had very heavy turbulence. I couldn’t have cared less if the plane went down, as far as I’m concerned it should do the job for me quite effortlessly. In fact, it was amusing to look round and see people clutch their seats in fear as the plane buckled like a bull in a rodeo. What really got to me was, as I imagined my demise, a voice which popped into my head and said “And that would be it. Life would have beaten you.” The word “beaten”. And my first thought which was almost as visceral as my need to breathe was how I hated the idea of that. Some part of me still lies defiant and actually since then, the fog has dissipated a little. I still feel very much empty, trying to muster any deep feelings is futile and feels a bit like pushing on a car accelerator pedal when you’ve run out of petrol. But the defiance feels solid and real. The fire is smouldering dimly but it hasn’t gone out.

I am not the person I was five months ago before this shit-show happened. I feel like a completely different person, but after some grieving I am slowly accepting that.

“I went to hell and back just to be where I am today”

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Book Review: Norwegian Wood

About 30 years too late to the party but considering I wasn’t even born when the book was published, I think I have a relatively good excuse.

*This review contains spoilers*

The first emotion reading this book was mostly surprise at how much sexual content there was. I had picked up the book having heard many online recommendations but I didn’t actually know what it was about. Having grown up with a relatively skewed perception on Japan and its culture (my teens were mainly spent consuming anime and manga), I had embarked on this journey with the assumption this would sit in the more conservative vein (I couldn’t possibly tell you why). One could take a look at the one line synopsis found on Google and Wikipedia and immediately tell me I was wrong. Oh so wrong. I do not recommend reading on packed public transport. 

After my initial mild surprise though, it made for an interesting read. The two main themes of loss/grief/death and understanding sexuality are explored throughout the book, although I would argue the second one is much more thoroughly explored than the latter and yet less poignant. Each of the main characters deal with loss at some point in their narrative and each show various ways of reacting and dealing with it (apart from perhaps Nagasawa who loses Hatsumi but isn’t actually shown how he deals with the loss. Presumably he continues as unsinkable as ever). There is a lot of sex that occurs supposedly as the novel is based in the 60s with most of the characters in hitting their second decade whilst at university and we see how each character varies in their attitude towards it and the effect it has on them. 

This is the first work from Murakami that I’ve ever read so I can only guess that the ending was intended to be less than conclusive, poetic even. Although, I feel since the novel started with a 37 year old Watanabe consciously mentioning that he’s writing this flashback into a book, for it to also end this way seems like a major oversight and personally I found it unsatisfactory. The trouble with reading translations is that you can never be 100% sure that the words and nuance is being conveyed how the author intended. Although being bilingual, I understand that it is nigh on impossible to ever fully translate into another language, particularly from Japanese to English as they are so different. This point however does not obviously cover whatever happens as part of the plot – the influence of the translator is surely only limited to the vibe given from the choice of words. I just would hope that in Japanese it would be presented as a better fitting ending. The pacing of the book also seemed rushed towards the end. It was probably paced so that it produces a climatic feel – to me it just felt a bit rushed. And I’m not going to talk about the tragic if convenient event of Naoko’s suicide just as the protagonist is agonising whether he is able to be with Midori. There are things that can be excused as artistic licence to an extent, but it doesn’t stop me harumphing about it. 

My biggest concern with the book is that everyone who featured in Watanabe’s life excerpt didn’t seem to have any function other than to hold a particular stereotype with no actual character development. Even Naoko, who is the one other character present from the beginning doesn’t really ever have any development apart from fulfilling the inevitable at the end. I guess some would argue that Murakami perhaps is using the other characters as a larger metaphor for the protagonist’s journey through the book. Naoko holds an unseverable bond from his childhood (until at the end when it is severed in the most final of ways) which means she has an immeasurable influence on Watanabe, Midori holds the his hope for the future (more on this in a sec), Reiko represents his closure for Naoko’s death and also conveniently bringing to full circle his long process of coming to terms with Kizuki’s suicide. Nagasawa represents the personality that Watanabe could be but isn’t. Okay, we get it. Watanabe is capable for emotional attachment that Nagasawa isn’t. Woop de do. He still manages to be an arsehole in a number of different ways. One thing I do have to get off my chest is the number of times he achieves climax with either Naoko or Midori in the book, where is the one mention that he even reciprocated the favour? I mean, I know it was written in the 80s but surely someone as perverted as Midori wouldn’t be satisfied with being a simple object of male gratification.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Midori, as wonderfully quirky she is, I can’t help but feel she would just be better off elsewhere. Not with her existing boyfriend who I’m confused as to why they’re together in the first place (although looking back on my own romantic history, I suppose it does happen), but with someone who is perhaps more emotionally available than Tory “infatuated with his dead best friend’s girlfriend” Watanabe. Certain aspects of Midori’s personality has been caricaturised so much she becomes the fetish of Watanabe’s choice of women. If Naoko is the delicate black hole that sucks all happy feelings out of the room, Midori is the exact opposite complete with spreading her legs in front of her dead dad’s portrait at the altar. Caricaturisation isn’t something that is new but I just wonder what the point of it was for it to be taken to this extreme. The author makes some attempts when she’s first introduced to flesh out her character with attributes like her cooking ability (and her stubbornness in saving for the utensils) as well as her job as a map fact writer. These are sadly all lost when she strongly features towards the end of the book as she and Watanabe finally confess their feelings. By this point all she embodies as a personality is her constant talk about sex and show off how perverted she is. I’m not arguing that girls don’t have a one track mind in any case but it seems like she’s incapable of having any other noteworthy exploits after her dad’s passing. Like other characters, despite her going through some major life events herself, her base character remains relatively unchanged which I think is a shame. There is even a bit towards the end where Midori asks Watanabe hoe his appearance has changed so drastically to which he replies “By growing up”. 

So with as much as I’ve ranted about above, there were some really nice and quite profound moments in the book. These were primarily when Murakami was dealing with confronting the concept of death and grief for example like this exerpt:

“The night Kizuki died, however, I lost the ability to see death (and life) in such simple terms. Death was not the opposite of life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that.” 

The section in the hospital where he strikes up a simple but genuine connection with Midori’s father was also a very well written part that came across quite delicately touching. I’d also argue with myself that when Midori meets with Watanabe for the first time after her dad’s passing seemed relatively sincere. That passes enough to make the “nice moments” category. 

As much as graphic description of physical passion, no matter how artfully written, can increase a book’s intensity, it needs to be balanced with nuanced moments like the above to give it fleshing out. Life is not complete without variety and whilst there were some good explorations into some of the more intense aspects of the human condition the novel overall still feels lacking for me personally. 

TV Has Come A Long Way

In particular Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman have hit the particular notes that I’ve been feeling (in different ways) in the past few months.

Rick and Morty strikes a chord with the sci-fi adventure nerd but still hits all the dark humour buttons. In terms of quotes, I think Bojack Horseman wins in its abundance of one-liners that packs a punch that will knock you over, but Rick and Morty definitely hits it home with its use of Rick’s character arc throughout the seasons.

In terms of quotables though, Bojack Horseman definitely shines.

gummo GIF